Slices of life don’t come much meatier than the one served up in Owen McCafferty’s Scenes From the Big Picture. Death, adultery, gunplay, cancer, drugs, booze, sex, rowdy teens, battling brothers, even a meteor shower—all are present and accounted for in an evening seemingly intent on establishing that contemporary Northern Ireland is a land of small-“t” troubles as well as the more famous big-“t” ones.
This, I suppose, ought to seem a relief, though it hardly qualifies as good news for the Irish.
As the title indicates, the playwright is a big-canvas observer working in intimate ways. You won’t hear such reductive words as “Protestant” or “Catholic,” or even discover the source of a gun cache unearthed by men who are at war for entirely personal reasons. But if factionalism isn’t the point here, conflict certainly is: Siblings who haven’t spoken in a decade suddenly get flung together at their father’s funeral; drug-trade beatings are trumped by shootings; teen bullying segues into adult manipulation; marriages get threatened by disease, infidelity, the ache of loss.
With almost two dozen characters and seven distinct plotlines, the evening feels a bit like a Robert Altman film, although with less rigorously interlocked stories. Scenes isn’t scattershot exactly, but it needs the shaping that Des Kennedy’s sparely inventive staging gives it. The director begins the evening with all 21 of his performers on stage, letting us examine them for a moment before he begins the rearranging of portals and props with which he’ll create the bare bones of a town dominated by a slaughterhouse. Detailing the plot points would rob the evening of its force, so let’s just note that the performances are mostly quite fine, and in a few instances—Nanna Ingvarsson and Brian Hemmingsen as a couple desperate to recover the body of their long-lost son—genuinely moving.
An enormously ambitious undertaking for scrappy little Solas Nua, Scenes ends its two hours and 40 minutes of hustling with an old man’s long look heavenward—a quietly contemplative image that aims for transcendence and achieves it without fuss. It’s a lovely bookend for the crowded stage with which the evening began, but it is perhaps the nature of so episodic an evening that there isn’t really a climax to hang it on. At intermission there’d seemed to be a gathering catastrophe, but the author has opted not to wrap things up too neatly, intending, as he told us in the title, only to provide scenes from the big picture, not the picture itself.